Writer: Alex Paknadel Art: Eric Scott Pfeiffer Publisher: BOOM! Studios
WHAT IS IT?
A dark and futuristic comic about the last vestiges of humanity after a virus kills 99% of people on the planet.
Part character study and part technologically-forward tragedy, it feels like Black Mirror meets The Discovery, or a merging of the bleak future, ethical quandaries and questions about what defines personhood of Battlestar Galactica and the heartbreaking tone and survivor guilt of The Leftovers. Honestly, if you're a fan of any or all of these, this is a must-read comic for you.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It's the not-so-distant future. Billions are dead. Only around 150 million worldwide are left to pick up the pieces and try to keep humanity alive. But their numbers are dwindling. The minds of the dead have been saved, in a way. Each person uploaded him- or herself to a sort of computer program at the time of their death. However, keeping them “alive” inside the program, Arcadia, takes resources. Making sure it doesn’t overheat. Dealing with rats trying to chew cords. Having enough bandwidth to keep Arcadia's denizens happy. But it’s necessary. Not just because it’s, well, the vast majority of the human race inside. But also because the Arcadians are developing a cure for the virus that's still ravaging the population. At least, that's what they're telling the living people running the program... But the souls suspended in Arcadia need the people in the real world, too, to maintain the servers hosting the Arcadia program so they don't disappear forever. Inside Arcadia, it’s a teeming, futuristic world where no one can die, since everyone inside is technically data rather than breathing, organic life. But they can feel pain. And while they’ve been saved, in a way, all is not fine inside the virtual reality of Arcadia. People take poison for fun. Weird amoebic entities beg for spines and resolution. The people who were powerful on earth are still the powerful ones in Arcadia, hoarding limited pixels and bandwidth rather than money, and making the disadvantaged have to survive as polygons like the characters in an OG PlayStation game. Things are complicated with our main characters, a family where most died, leaving only the father, a caretaker for the Arcadia servers who has to fight for the rights of Arcadia's denizens while working for the President, who has her own designs for how the program should work. Plus, the Arcadia program seems to be getting more and more errors arising, mysteriously.
Tensions rise to a boiling point between Earth's survivors and the people of Arcadia, and something will have to give. But can one survive without the other? And, even if they work together toward a common goal, they still may not survive the virus in the real world, and the deteriorating program that is Arcadia.
Alex Paknadel's writing is masterful
His dystopian future feels so natural and logical, I'm worried he may actually be clairvoyant
In his work, he often uses historic or literary names that are already charged with meaning
"Arcadia" is very tongue-in-cheek, a kind of naturalistic utopia, which would totally be how a corporation would brand a digital afterlife
The Lanchester Mansion in the story seems eerily similar to the Winchester Mansion in real life, potentially because similar things drove their caretakers mad
While Arcadia is an immensely heavy story, Paknadel also has little moments of humor and love that contrast with the gloom and shine all the brighter for it
Paknadel writes lines that are so stand-alone, stop-you-in-your-tracks powerful that you just have to stop reading for a second and take a deep breath
One I loved here: "The world is not a coin toss between the cave and the space shuttle”
His signature social commentary is sharp as ever, and one of the things that keep me coming back to his stories
Paknadel seems to enjoy using quotations in his writing, and they work well here as dividers to set the tone for each chapter
He also uses characters to simplify conversations or plot events for readers like me who may get lost
Even after engaging with my fair share of post-apocalyptic media, it's always such a strange experience, seeing what life is like with only a few people left
The president is on a first name basis with her constituents
Politicians care about their people and are actually held accountable because there’s so little of the world left to act as a distraction
We see glimmers and echoes of the way things used to be, even without flashbacks, which is a really nice touch
There are so many little things people say offhand or shown in the art without being referenced in dialogue that help to define the world brilliantly and subtly
"Don’t look them in the eye or the uncanny valley will mess with you"
Pixelated birds accompany birds that look more realistic
Arcadian idioms, like "sue you into black & white" and "bytes and brimstone"
Eric Scott Pfeiffer is the perfect artist to bring Arcadia to life
His ability to show futuristic landscapes, to tell a story without relying on dialogue or narration, and to bring the uncanny valley to the page in a way that both disturbs and captivates us is absolutely spellbinding
Pfeiffer gives a lot of thought to color palette, especially with regard to warm vs. cool colors and it's very effective at not showing the difference between the real world and Arcadia, but also the changing tone and mood from scene to scene
Some of Pfeiffer's panels were just as devastating and powerful as the story
Paknadel & Pfeiffer make for one powerful team
Colin Bell's lettering had some very cool programming and textured effects (see the image below for an example) that blended very well with the story and its tone
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
There were some moments where things happened to characters and I wouldn't realize it for several pages -- I would have been OK if those events were more overt and obvious
There's a line, "The world is all that the fall is," that seemed to have some significance, and I don't know if I entirely understand it
As mentioned earlier, Arcadia can feel very heavy and depressing
This may not be your thing, and that's OK!
It's also all right to take breaks if things start feeling too heavy
I do think, if you can at all handle the weight of the world in a single comic book, this should be the one you read
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Arcadia is a masterpiece. It's heartbreaking, devastating, even. But there's also hope and beauty there, under the bleak and inky black. It makes a story that sticks with you, like all good, classic stories should.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Friendo by Alex Paknadel & Martin Simmonds
A.D. After Death by Scott Snyder & Jeff Lemire
Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
If you like the art:
Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis & Declan Shalvey
Paradiso, Vol. 1 by Ram V & Devmalya Pramanik
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Alex Paknadel – Writer
His apprehension toward trusting corporations and the tech industry inspired his writing on Arcadia and other titles
Dream Team: Is part of White Noise Studio with other upcoming, extremely talented writers: Ryan O'Sullivan, Ram V & Dan Watters
Has a PhD in English literature
Eric Scott Pfeiffer – Illustrator
Multitalented: Also an extremely talented concept artist for film, games and print
Specializes in digital art
Colin Bell – Letterer
Multitalented: Has also written a couple comics, one of which (Dungeon Fun) won an award
Outlander: Lives in Scotland
Jasmine Amiri – Editor
Worked as an editor on Arcadia before moving to Lion Forge Comics
Helped guide Paknadel through a lot of the writing process, since he was still very new to the medium when he wrote this
Dream Team: Seems to be in a relationship with talented ex-X-Men writer, Dennis Hopeless
Eric Harburn – Editor
Also helped guide Paknadel through a lot of the writing process, since he was still very new to the medium when he wrote this
Test of Time: Has worked as an editor at BOOM! Studios for over 8 years
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